ON-LINE DANCING

Here in Melbourne, a bustling metropolis of some five million consumers, sorry, citizens, we are back in Stage Three lockdown. That means the only valid reasons for leaving home are work/education, exercise, purchasing food/essentials or medical appointments.

But what it really means is ON-LINE SHOPPING.

The joys of buying stuff on-line are so obvious we’ve integrated them into our lifestyle now… not needing go out (or even dress), the thrill of something arriving you don’t remember purchasing, returning items damaged in the post, the brilliant ideas that surface just before the second bottle of wine runs out… it’s bliss. And with interest rates this low, you’ll scarcely notice the monthly card repayments.

Wanting to spread the joy around, I’ve been purchasing little surprise gifts for some of the people in my life, and feeling a quiver of excitement as I imagine their delight when an unexpected pressie arrives (contactless!) on the doorstep.

My partner, commonly known as Ms Connection, has been loving the new electric coffee machine we acquired. So have I. The magic of pushing a couple of buttons and getting a cafe-style latte in moments obscures the sight of the metal espresso machines sitting forlornly by the stove. And that lovely white-noise shooshing sound as the milk heats entirely drowns out thoughts of landfill and profligate wasting of resources. It’s all good.

So I found a boutique coffee pod seller called Bling Beans and ordered a dozen different coffees, both leaded and decaffeinated. But to add some fun, I got them to empty all the various flavours and styles into one mixed box and omit the colour coded ID chart, so Ms C gets a lucky dip. To add to the excitement, if she has more than one shot of full strength coffee in a day she turns into an amphetamine squirrel so there’s a touch of Deerhunter roulette here too.

The other purchase was equally thoughtful. One of my oldest friends, who I met up with for a last supper the day before lockdown, told me a sad story. He was limping as we walked to the cafe and when I asked about this latest ailment (which is what old bastards do when they meet) he explained, with a degree of embarrassment, that he had injured his toes. How? I asked. He looked away and muttered something unintelligible, but I persisted. After all, this was someone who totalled his ankle after walking out the back of a camper van while staring at a compass to see where the sun would rise. So I persisted, and was rewarded.

“I couldn’t find my toenail clippers,” he said. “There were some wire cutters handy and I thought, being a simple builder, now that’s a good idea. But the bevelled edge of the pliers and the distance between my eyes and feet made it trickier than I thought.”

And?

“I sliced a bit off two toes.”

Ouch.

So I found this really neat kit and ordered it for him. It’s called Big Bloke’s Nail Kit and has a cutter, a trimmer and a buffer. They even threw in some fingernail clippers for free. He’ll be rapt, I know.

I’m working on a couple of home-based ideas to entertain the boy as well. I saw this on social media and had a good laugh, so I thought I’d re-arrange his newly organised library (sections for Sci-Fi and Fantasy, General Fiction, Myths and Legends, Dr Who, etc) into one long line of books ordered by height from largest to smallest. He’s scored an extra week off school due to the second wave of COVID, so that should keep him occupied.

With a little imagination and a credit card, lockdown can be fun.

 

“I CAME THROUGH AND I SHALL RETURN”

Sometimes inspiration flags, sometimes life gets in the way of writing. Blogs go into a state of suspended animation. 

Here are a dozen opening lines to be avoided when returning after a hiatus.

I’ve been away.

No-one noticed.

Did you miss me?

Nup.

It’s been ages since I’ve sat down at the keyboard.

And…?

Such a very busy time…

Naturally no-one else in the entire blogging world is busy.

So much has happened, I don’t know where to start.

Come back when you’ve worked it out.

Thank you to all my loyal readers who’ve waited patiently.

You hope.

I promised to post regularly and I haven’t.

Self-abasement is charming.

I feel terrible about not posting these last six weeks/months/decades.

Ditto grovelling.

I’m so grateful for the support of my readers.

Such authenticity. Anyway, they’re not yours.

I’ve missed you all.

But mostly I’ve missed having my ego stroked.

Most sincere apologies for the silence.

Enough breast-beating, already. Who’s actually upset?

It is so good to be back!

Translation: I’m shit-scared no-one will even remember my blog.

*

Above all, only publish when you actually have something worthwhile to offer.

Now, what was I going to write about…

*

Title quote: Doug MacArthur, Adelaide, South Australia, 1942.

IN SEARCH OF SPACE

Space. The initial frontier.

Have you sometimes lost sight of your writing? There were times during the past three months when I simply forgot the existence of Lonely Keyboards. Yet as I sit here now I clearly recall the joy of beginning this second blog-that’s-not-always-about-music, and the thrill of engaging with a new audience. As it turned out the audience was not always new; some friends travelled across from Vinyl Connection, revealing different aspects of themselves from the world of music blogging. Often what was shared was more visible, more vulnerable, more human. I cherished those moments. It’s one thing to high-five when someone’s taste in music confirms your own good judgement, but it is quite another to breath deeply into another’s confusion, or struggles with creativity, or experience of grief and loss. 

Not that there has been an absence of writing: the weekly (sometimes twice-weekly) posts at Vinyl Connection keep me tapping away and spinning records most days. My fondness for connected series—currently the birth of progressive music—means I regularly feel impelled by a sense of completion to push out another missive. Sometimes that internal pressure squeezes the enjoyment a little, but I do it anyway. It has become a habit. And habits take up space.

A new writing gig began recently. Paid work. Writing album reviews for an on-line retailer. Someone said, ‘Bruce, that’s your dream job!’. Maybe it is; still too early to tell. But one thing is certain, adding another track of music writing onto the weekly playlist of activities has led to an increase in output. And a corresponding decrease in space.

Little time for reflection, then. 

Reflection. The the space where creativity swirls and ideas puff into existence.

What brought this into focus was happening across a newspaper column by a writer I knew, years ago. I enjoyed the piece (which was about celebrating the moment) and looked her up on social media. In no time an electronic connection snapped ‘on’, we’d exchanged email addresses and I had located her blog. Wondered whether she would find my blog. What’s that about? Establishing credentials? Sending a selfie? Found myself reflecting that Vinyl Connection is mostly straight music writing these days. The river of memoir-music stories may not have run dry, but it has slowed to a trickle. I kind of shrugged to myself. ‘It is what it is’. Then I remembered Lonely Keyboards, recalled the intoxicating (but scary) high after Goodbye Piper was picked up; the steady, inevitable decline of interest as I steadfastly avoided most return-follows, the settling in with a small but engaged readership who seemed interested in the inner experiences of writing and life… 

We reveal different personas in different settings. Both blogs are ‘me’, and neither.

Sometimes if you put yourself into a certain context, that will close a circuit inside you. Lenny Kaye once said, ‘Pick up a guitar and see who you become’. Maybe writers could say, ‘Start a blog and see who you are’. Who you are today, at least. Conduct an assay of your inner mineral deposits via qwerty. Test the quality of the interior air with a canary keyboard. Could be methane, could be gold.

But first you have to make the space, and be in the moment. Maybe even turn off the music for a bit, and listen.

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PIANO MAN

It was a Friday night when I got off the bus in Portland. There was a chill in the air. I was going to a restaurant to meet a pianist.

His name was Art and he had a gig playing jazz at an eatery downtown. I’d rather be composing, he said, and shrugged.

Quite an adventure, going to stay with a person I’d know for just a couple of intense weeks through a personal growth course in Northern California. I wouldn’t be so adventurous now, wouldn’t be so trusting. But Art was a cool dude and one of the smattering of non-therapists doing the training. We hung out a bit during breaks and I was able to stretch my limited knowledge of jazz into something that connected us.

On the final night we performed together, me reciting a poem I’d written a few days earlier while Art extemporised energetically on the careworn upright in the main hall. It was fun, even though his brilliant improvisations didn’t entirely coalesce with the song-like stanzas I’d crafted. Art wanted reading as dramatic as his playing and kept encouraging me to pump up the verses. I’ve always preferred poetry read in a slightly bored monotone—let the words add the energy, not the voice. My writing could use such toning down; too much vibrato sometimes. Still, we did something, Art and me. Something co-created, something new; it forms a bond. As the group disbanded the next day, returning to homes interstate or across the world, a farewell conversation with the venerable teacher revealed that he had not realised the poem was newly written about the journey we’d all taken. You wrote that? Huh! Thought it was from a book.

So I was in an unfamiliar city on a chilly early Autumn evening asking directions for Higgins Restaurant and Bar (or whatever it was called) from the entirely disinterested person behind the office window. And not for the last time, fell into the beginner’s trap of not specifying I was on foot. People just assume you have transport, even if you are carrying a pack and just got off a Greyhound. Just walk straight out the door and turn left, it’s not far.

Trudging up the wrong side of a six lane highway through the Oregon night I saw no-one. Shuttered windows and speeding cars with yellow, jaundiced eyes. Wondered about a cab but had no idea how to action that; no mobiles in those days. A weary ‘eventually’ later, I found the place. Stood on the door-step feeling nervous; sounds of eating and muted conversation from the lit interior. Sounds of piano, too. That gave me courage.

A whispered conversation with the Maître D’ then a small seat near the piano. Another basic instrument, better cared for. A nod from Art but not much else. Focussed on his playing. Diner attention on their meals or companions or conversations. Talking a bit louder when Art played a more energetic passage. I wondered if his frown was concentration or a reaction to the indifference of the audience.

Let’s go to Higgins, they gotta piano man on Friday nights.

Loud isn’t it, in this small space? Don’t worry, I think he’s almost finished. Dessert?

The artist’s life.

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A gift indeed. As was Art’s hospitality.